Monthly Wrap-Up: November 2020 – Joce Shares Pondsgiving, CW’s Favourite Middle-Grade Reads, and Skye Reads More Fantasies!

Monthly Wrap-Up: November 2020 - Joce Shares Pondsgiving, CW's Favourite Middle-Grade Reads, and Skye Reads More Fantasies!

Joce Opens Pondsgiving & Shares a Story-Time

This year, and every year, we hold Pondsgiving to share a meal and the found family we have built amongst the inhabitants. In our everyday lives, particularly the American voices in the book community, we need to strive to decolonize Thanksgiving. This article by M. Karlos Baca (Tewa/Dinè/Nuuciu), an Indigenous Foods Activist, founder of Taste of Native Cuisine, and a cofounder of the I-Collective, explores ways to decolonize Thanksgiving and revive Indigenous relationships with food. The Pond is full of myth, magic, and lore, and in these traditions, we eradicate the false narrative we have been told about glorifying pilgrimage in American history, and retell history in the ways that stories should have been initially told.

We are taking special care to decolonize our Thanksgiving dinner at the Pond, using methods and ideologies from this interview with Chef Nephi Craig, a Navajo member of the White Mountain Apache tribe of Whiteriver, Arizona, and founder of the Native American Culinary Association.

We welcome you to our Pondsgiving dinner. We hope you’ll stay awhile.


“Friend!” calls Xiaolong, as you round the corner, nudging aside a curtain of hanging greenery with your elbow. You bring in a pot of still-warm red bean soup and a small container of toasted spiced sunflower seeds from your home garden to garnish, precariously balanced on top of the pot.

redbean

“Mmmm! What is that delicious smell?” asks Varian, their froggy nostrils poking around. You explain to them that you began carefully watching your sunflowers, then harvested them at exactly the right time, continuing on to dry the sunflower heads for a week or two and remove the seeds for toasting. Varian nods, in understanding, and reflects, “We grow all of our own food, or find vegetation around the Pond. It’s hard work, but we fills our meals with love for our home.”

Gen is at the northeast corner of the Pond, examining at a bushel of rosemary and plucking the sprigs for spicing today’s meal. Next to him is Cuddle, holding Party while watching a makeshift rotisserie on which a large turkey spins, roasting slowly.

An illustration of Cuddle, holding Party

“Wow!” you exclaim, “where did you get that turkey?”

Cuddle muses, “you know, I don’t really remember,” as you swear you could see Party’s beady eyes dart towards a now-wrinkled and limp Pond Halloween pumpkin that had “We Stan Eggna” with a simple geometric vaguely chicken-like shape painted on it. You breathe a sigh of relief as you hear Aunty Buaya call, “Eggna! I told you to get out of the berries we had picked for dessert today!” and moments later, a boisterous and guilt-ridden chicken emerges from under a pile of berries in the grass.

xl mash

You set your pot down and join Amina and Xiaolong, who are standing at a log table. Amina is shaping wild rice cakes into patties for browning over the fire. You join Xiaolong in adding butter and cream to the potatoes she is furiously mashing. For a tiny axolotl, she has a mighty potato-mashing arm, you note. Xiaolong waves in thanks to a cow with a slightly angelic glow and gestures towards the dairy products she generously pours in.

sprout origami

Sprout is doing what they do best, folding each inhabitant’s napkin into a likeness of themselves and setting the table with dishes and utensils perfectly shaped for each family member’s wings paws, or hands. Suddenly, who you think is Cuddle comes crashing in, weaving in and out of the various inhabitants preparing food, really appearing as a giant turkey with two little otter legs arduously carrying it. “Move!” she says, “Get out the way!” Thankfully she makes it to the table and plops the turkey down with a satisfying thunk. The remaining dishes are quick to follow, and soon the Pond air is filled with the warm, rich aromas of the meal, awaiting hungry mouths to devour it.

Everyone sits down at the table, and Xiaolong makes a toast with her berry juice. “To our family: big, small, feathered, and furry. We may not be family by blood, but we are family by choice, and that choice is one I love and will cherish for life. I am grateful for you, but more importantly, I am grateful for us.”

“Ruff ruff!” barks Bao, and everyone laughs as they dig in. You take a bite of the colorful and savory Three Sisters stew, as you look up to see Cuddle carving into the turkey. You swear you could see a small muscle bulging from her bicep from all that carrying and rotisserie rotating, but you never know with these otters whether anything is reality or your imagination. You shrug it off as you take another hearty, delicious bite of stew. The food is as good as the Pond is lively, safe, and welcoming.

“Happy Pondsgiving!” Xiaolong declares, as glasses clink and laughs can be heard above the warm bustle.

CW’s November Wrap-Up

Books I Read in November

Xiaolong the axolotl, holding a stack of sparkling books.

November felt like it flew super quickly, but when I look at the books that I read during November… maybe it didn’t pass all that quickly?! What even is time. Anyway, November was a wonderful month of middle-grade! It’s been a stressful month of work, so I always cosy up with a comfy middle-grade to remind me that there’s hope in the world.

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas

I thought this was really cute! About a Latine boy who can talk to animals who moves into a new town with his mum, and gets entangled in a mystery of all the animals going missing. I thought this was so fun, so reminiscent of The Wild Thornberries, and was super imaginative. An entertaining read, simple and fun, and lots of animal trivia to keep the little ones entertained.

Add on Goodreads.

Isiah Dunn is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist

I read the short story version of this book in Flying Lessons – one of the first anthologies I ever read, and for that remains close to my heart. I loved how Baptist developed Isiah’s story; it’s a story that explores a multitude of themes: grief, homelessness, a depressed and alcoholic mother that’s portrayed honestly and sensitively, friendship, the power of writing – so many things. It’s a confronting read, but so genuine and good as well.

Add on Goodreads.

Stake Sauce: Arc 1 by RoAnna Sylver

RoAnna reached out to me, wanting to collab, and with an author copy that she provided for me, I finally got around to reading her work. And what a delight this book was; it blends punk with vampires with trauma with hope with friendship with queer love. I loved how, despite its sharp edges and honest portrayal of grief and trauma, it’s ultimately a book filled with so much love. Great new adult read.

Add on Goodreads.

A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi

This book easily makes one of my favourite middle-grade books at all time. About a Pakistani-American girl who travels to Pakistan with her mother, and befriends a poor Pakistani girl. I’m going to be writing a review about this so you’ll inevitably see my thoughts, but I thought the way that this book grapples with privilege and the difference between being part of diaspora and being part of the “mainland” brilliantly. Loved this.

Add on Goodreads.

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

I want this book in the hands of every kid out there; this is a phenomenal middle-grade book, so insightful, so brilliant, and so empowering. About a Black boy and son of an activist whose neighbourhood is under threat of change, and decides to do what he can to fight this. Honestly, I loved this book so much; loved its gentle yet fantastic exploration of gentrification in a way that many young readers will understand. Read it, read it, read it.

Add on Goodreads.

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée

This was such an unexpected read, but such a powerful one. About a Black girl who wants to avoid trouble, wants her friends to be friends forever, and wants a boyfriend. But when Black Lives Matter protests start happening, she realises that trouble isn’t always bad – and that she can stand up for what she believes in too. Such a messy protagonist, but I say that in the best way – we see a Black girl who is vulnerable, grows, learns, and navigates complex issues that many young Black girls would grapple with. Fantastic book.

Add on Goodreads.

Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao

This is my favourite Gloria Chao book to date – such a fantastic, fun, yet honest story about being an Asian daughter caught between a rock and a half places. Follows a Taiwanese-American teen who hires a ‘boyfriend’ – except they end up falling for each other – in an attempt to throw off the marriage her parents want for her. So much nuance in this story and so much heart and tenderness too. Asian misogyny is critiqued and challenged, yet her messy parents were humanised. I appreciated that a lot.

Add on Goodreads.

Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh

A wonderful story in verse that unfurls in non-chronological order. About a Nigerian-American teen who navigates high school and later college, and explores the different events in her life that made her who she is. The prose was powerful and I appreciated how it explores a plethora of topics – racism, sexism, abuse, sexuality, and dreams. I liked this well enough – I think I just read this at a time where I wasn’t really able to focus. Not the book’s fault at all, and I’d like to re-read it again someday.

Add on Goodreads.

Swing by Kwame Alexander

Wow, what a book. I didn’t know what to expect going in, but it lulled me into this false sense of security – and then the ending happens. About a Black boy and his best friend who navigate life, friendships, relationship, jazz, baseball, love, and police brutality. I thought this was phenomenal and I’m still reeling from it. There’s a sudden tonal shift at the end, one that sprung out of nowhere, but I felt like its point was made brilliantly – that ‘life’ can happen at any time, indiscriminately, unfairly.

Add on Goodreads.

CW’s Posts During November

Our Friend is Here! - A Story with Raquel Vasquez Gilliland, Author of Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of the Universe; On Ghosts, Día de los Muertos and Sia Martinez

Earlier this year, I read Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything and loved it. With the help of Skye, we had the author, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland, visit us at the Pond and talked about what Día de los Muertos meant to her family. This is such a beautiful post – please read this.

Our Friend is Here: An Author Interview with RoAnna Sylver, Author of Stake Stake - On 'Dys-hope-ia', How Hope and Horror are Intertwined, and Honouring Corey Alexander

RoAnna Sylver visited us as a space bunny for Our Friend is Here! and we talked about their book, hope in dystopia, and RoAnna also honours Corey Alexander’s memory.

Clues to the Universe by Christina Li. A badge at the bottom-left that says, 'Reviewed by CW, The Quiet Pond'. In the centre is a image of Xiaolong, the pink axolotl wearing a flower hat, waving at you.

I read and reviewed one of my most anticipated books of 2021: Clues to the Universe by Christina Li. This was such a fantastic portrayal of grief and friendship, and if you ever want to read a book that tugs at your heartstrings – read this.

I reviewed one of my favourite books of this year: The Girl and The Ghost by Hanna Alkaf. I loved writing this review because I really loved this book and its genius.

Book Recommendations - MG and YA Books with Young Activists, Part I. An image of Varian the toad, holding up a sign that says 'change now'.

I’m trying to be more consistent with my book recommendation posts, so this is the start of me trying to be better! I recommend some empowering YA and MG books that center on young activists. I love all the books I recommended, so please check these books out and add them to your to-read list!

Book blogger resources: how i revamped the quiet pond (and my tips for your next revamp!)

Come and see how unhinged galaxy brain I was when doing this revamp and get some advice for your next blog revamp! I had a lot of fun putting this post together, though, by the end, I definitely felt like I had talked too much.

Chloe Gong and Xiaolong team up to take you on a These Violent Delights-themed virtual tour across Shanghai. I had so much fun putting this together, and a huge thank you to Chloe for taking us on a tour!

Book Recommendations - Funny Books That Will Make You Laugh Out Loud

I recommended books that will make you laugh out loud! Had so much putting this list together, and, if I don’t say so myself, it has some pretty neat books in this list.

Other Stuff CW Did During November

  • With December and January being busy months, we started planning for Black History Month and have pretty much filled most of our spots! I can’t wait to show y’all what the guests and I have planned – you’re all going to love it.
  • I’ve also started working on Pondathon and have made concrete plans on what we’re going to be doing!
  • Other than that, work has been intense so my time on social media has been severely limited – I work 10 hours most days, minimum, but things will get better. At least I’m enjoying the work that I’m doing!

Skye’s November Wrap-Up

Books I Read in November

Sprout the sparrowing, thinking with a pen in their hand.

November has been an absolute hell month for me, between having to send my laptop out for repairs during crunch week at college, rising COVID cases in Malaysia, and trying to wrap up a hectic semester—it’s a miracle that I’m still here, alive! From the rubble I now unearth five (!!) books that have provided a little bit of light and reprieve through these very trying times:

Horrid by Katrina Leno

Look… I am on such a horror kick right now. I have this habit of picking up interesting-looking books on a whim even if they aren’t part of my immediate TBR, and while terrible for the books I vowed to read beforehand, this has honestly led me to discover some truly incredible gems. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut and taste! This spooky book about a haunted house and family secrets was foreboding, creepy, and just plain old weird in the best of ways. If you’re down for creaky old houses, town secrets, and unreliable narrators, this book is a real treat.

Add this book to Goodreads!

Miss Meteor by Anna-Marie McLemore & Tehlor Kay Mejia

I was blown away by this book, friends. I finished it within a single day, and by this point it had been ages since I’d been so enamored by a book that I just had to finish it as soon as possible. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and just so much fun; it also tackles its thematic social issues with so much grace! All the characters are full people, and they all struggle—even the archetypical “jock” and “mean girl” end up having surprising depth throughout the story. There was a moment when all the magical realism elements clicked for me and everything made so much thematic sense and, friends, believe me: I’m going to be lying in bed thinking about this book for a long long time. ALSO: CUTE WARM TRANS BOY JOCK!!!

Add this book to Goodreads!

Spinning by Tillie Walden

I finished this comic, rapt, in one afternoon, after borrowing the hefty physical copy from a friend. I’m a big fan of Tillie Walden’s graphic novels, and I was really excited to read this! I didn’t realise until I started that this was an autobiography of sorts, from Tillie’s own childhood in ice skating and growing up queer. I think, because of its nature as a faithful recounting of real events that actually happened, this was more… slice-of-life and quiet than I had originally anticipated it to be—which isn’t a bad thing! But I do think that you should have the right expectations going in. This was an overall 3.5 stars for me, but I think Tillie’s portrayal of her messy coming-of-age was really honest and compelling.

Add this book to Goodreads!

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Of all the books I read in November, this one was probably the most hyped out of the line-up. Legendborn is a YA Arthur retelling set in the American South, following a Black girl who finds out there’s much more to her legacy than she realised. This was also a 3.5-star read for me! The good parts were so good—Tracy’s exploration of how white supremacist institutions are reproduced and upheld in American society through the magic system and worldbuilding of the book are absolutely second to none. I did have a little trouble getting through this because I’m not personally familiar with the Arthur mythos, and wasn’t super fond of some narrative choices with regards to the love triangle and romance. But seriously, that’s just me. If you’re at all interested in urban fantasy, Arthur retellings, and tropes reimagined in the hands of diverse writers: this is your book of the season.

Add this book to Goodreads!

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

This book is… so beautiful. It’s so beautiful. Its whimsy transported me so fully and so effortlessly—to this day when I think about it, my heart is warmer for just a little while. I’m honestly surprised that this isn’t more popular! Trung Le Nguyen has crafted an absolute masterpiece of a coming-of-age tale in this book, following the life of first-generation Vietnamese-American Tiến, who struggles to find the words to come out to his parents as gay. Woven throughout his story are fairytales, both Western and Vietnamese alike, as well as the story of his mother, who feels stranded between the home she once knew, and the country she has arrived at to seek a better life for her family. This book was so gentle and so powerfully moving, and I genuinely think it might end up on my “best of 2020” list as the year comes to a close.

Add this book to Goodreads!

Other Stuff Skye was Up to in November

  • I am currently in the middle of my arcs of Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft and (the long-overdue) The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall—both such different and fascinating books centering queer girls!
  • I’m going to be in quarantine for at least half of December after I fly back home, so I’m hoping to get tons of reading done while I’m languishing in the hotel room, heheh. See y’all when we meet again for the end of year wrap-up!

What a month it’s been, friends! We hope that you’ve enjoyed Pondsgiving and our wrap-up for November, and that everyone is continuing to stay safe wherever you are in the world! May the last month of the year will be one of rest and recuperation with the loved ones in our lives, and one filled with many great stories as well!

2 thoughts on “Monthly Wrap-Up: November 2020 – Joce Shares Pondsgiving, CW’s Favourite Middle-Grade Reads, and Skye Reads More Fantasies!

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